Cumberland Bar 44 Scotland Street

On the trail of the real 44 Scotland Street

by Larissa

44 Scotland Street coverFrom Larissa ~ Although this was my first trip to Edinburgh, I felt as though I already knew the place. I had visited the city many times “virtually,” through reading. I am a fan of the 44 Scotland Street novels by Alexander McCall Smith. The author chronicles the fictitious, but very realistic, goings-on of a group of residents in Edinburgh’s New Town. (Note:  the “New Town” was built in the late 18th & early 19th centuries, history runs deep in Edinburgh.)

I spent an afternoon exploring the New Town in search of some of the locations referenced in the books. The center of all this activity is the eponymous 44 Scotland Street, an unreal address on a very real street. It is a Georgian-era townhouse apartment building; the type that boasts high ceilings, a spiral staircase and questionable plumbing.

Scotland Street, courtesy myweeklybook_netSeveral colorful residents weave their way through the books along with friends, relatives and other assorted hangers-on. Readers of the series (which now has seven installments) become friends with the characters, including: Domenica, the anthropologist who wants to study modern-day pirates in Malaysia; Cyril the beer-drinking dog, owned by Angus the portrait-painter; Big Lou, a no-nonsense gal from further up north who owns a café and dishes out great advice to everyone but herself; and Matthew, the totally inept gallery owner with a heart of gold.

Most endearing, however, is Bertie, the young boy with the mother-from-hell. Bertie just wants to be a kid, but his mother has him speaking Italian, studying the saxophone and attending a bizarre progressive school with kids named Tofu and Hiawatha.

The main character in the books is Edinburgh itself. Throughout the series Bertie et. al. frequent neighborhood haunts and city landmarks. Reading the 44 Scotland Street novels transports the reader to the streets of Edinburgh, making them a virtual neighbor.

view of Scotland Street courtesy myweeklybooknet

I found several of the places I had come to know and love:

  1. Scotland Street: a quiet wide residential street on a hill that slopes down toward the river Fife in the distance.  There’s no number 44, but you can get a sense of the neighborhood, with the large granite Georgian Townhouses and imposing front doors. I could almost hear Bertie practicing his saxophone.
  2. The Cumberland Bar: (Pictured at the top of this post.) A real bar a few blocks away that is tucked into an otherwise residential street.  Angus the portrait painter is a regular here, and this is where his dog Cyril (did I mention he has a gold tooth?) has his very own “beer bowl”.
  3. The Scottish Gallery: Located at number 16 Dundas Street, which is the proxy for Matthew’s fictitious Something Special Gallery. The spot where art snobs are unmasked and romance blossoms.
  4. Big Lou’s: Fictitious café across from Matthew’s gallery, home of a spectacular cappuccino machine that Lou is always polishing. It’s the center of all neighborhood gossip that doesn’t occur at the Cumberland Bar.
  5. Valvona & Crolla: Edinburgh’s oldest, and probably best, Italian deli.  This is where locals go for fresh mozzarella, espresso, and extra-virgin olive oil.  Perhaps the only benefit for Bertie of learning Italian—he absolutely craves the Panforte di Siena.

Valvona & Crolla, courtesy leilappetit_com jpg

Photo courtesy

I loved touring around these sites, as it took me into the heart of a neighborhood that was right in Edinburgh, yet far off the tourist trail. It was wonderful to see the places mentioned in the books, bringing the characters to life for me.  While in Edinburgh, 44 Scotland Street became my new home address.

Click the link for more information about the 44 Scotland Street novels on Amazon.

Note: My camera punked out on me that day so most of these pictures are courtesy of My Weekly Book, a person who is reading a book a week for a year.

What books have made you want to visit a place?

Samantha August 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I love these books!! Thanks for sharing.

John D August 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I think I found a new book series for my kindle. What a great review.

The Spenser novels (while not the most high brought writing) always bring me back to my days living in Boston.

Larissa August 23, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Glad to find a fellow fan–don’t you just feel for poor Bertie? 🙂

Larissa August 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Let me know how you like them. I have found during this trip that reading a novel that takes place in a specific city or country helps to immerse me in that location.

Are the Spenser novels what that old TV show “Spenser for Hire” was based on?

John D August 27, 2012 at 10:48 am

yes and having lived there I always marveled at the parking availability he had

Mar August 27, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I love the Alexander McCall Smith books. I visited Edinburg before I read his books. I also wanted to go back to Edinburgh to visit all the sites in the stories. Ian Rankin writes mysteries which take place in Edinburgh and also Glasgow. I read all those books with an Edinburgh tourist map at my side to make the story more real.
I had an opportunity to hear Alexander McCall Smith at an author’s discussion group in Hartford. He was hugely witty and was dressed in his tartan kilt. The author authors were Daniel Handler, the author of a Series of Unfortunate Incidents, and Amy Tan. It was a great night…

donna August 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm

What a delight, I’m a “real reader” and you may have turned me on to something new. Checking my library as soon as I get off line. Thanks!

Michael August 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm

The Ian Rankin novels certainly present a grittier side of Edinburgh.

Lisa September 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I love the 44 Scotland St. series as well as McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series – every time I finish one of the books I desperately want to go to Edinburgh! My teenage daughter was there this past summer and all she was concerned about were J.K Rowling connections. 🙂

Joyce August 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm

We are recent big fans of the 44 Scotland Street Series. As a result, my husband and I would like to find a tour (including accommodations and transportation) of Scotland with time to walk around Edinburgh as we imagine all the beloved characters from the books. Any recommendations?

Larissa August 14, 2013 at 2:01 am

I love reading the books even more now that I’ve been there–really makes them come alive for me 🙂

Larissa August 14, 2013 at 2:06 am

We toured Scotland independently, which was very easy. If you choose to take a tour, still do Edinburgh on your own at either before or after your tour. The city is very user-friendly: walkable and easy to use buses and taxis. Then you can explore your favorite neighborhood to your heart’s content!

Anno January 12, 2015 at 7:34 pm

I’m so happy to read of your reflections on these books and the city. I have read almost of all the AMS novels in each series and I use google maps frequently as I read those set in Edinburgh…it’s like going on a virtual tour. You are so lucky you could actually live the experience!

Ian Gourlay February 14, 2015 at 7:57 am

Please note – there is NO “River Fife”…. Fife is the name of the region on the far shore of the vast Firth Of Forth – ie it’s the mouth of the River Forth – and at the level where Edinburgh is (please note it ain’t “Edinburg” like some other visitor alleged) the Firth is several miles wide. Effectively, it’s an inlet of the North Sea.
Also – the series is up to Nine books now. All well worth your attention!

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